Walter de la Cruz scrambled down a large sand dune in the fog to reach a rock overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where he fished for three decades. He threw a hook into the waters off Coast of Peru several times, with no chance. An attempt yielded a piece of tinted plastic with oil.
De la Cruz, 60, is one of more more than 2,500 fishermen whose livelihoods have been put in doubt result of a major crude oil spill at the Spanish Repsol refinery on January 15 caused by an eruption tsunami of an underwater volcano near Tonga.
“We are desperate,” he said, counting on his fingers the debts that overwhelm him, one bank loan, bills for water, electricity, gas and school supplies for his two grandchildren.
Peru characterized the spill of 11,900 barrels in of face of a Repsol refinery as its “worst environmental disaster”. A United Nations expert report estimates it was around 2,100 tonnes of crude, well above the 700 tons that the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited considers threshold for a grand spill – and an unprecedented amount for the type of gross than leaked. The oil was extracted from Buzios, the worldthe most grand deepwater oil field and the most productive in Brazil.
The spill happened while the Mare Doricum, an Italian-flagged tanker, was unloading oil at the La Pampilla refinery, just off The coast of Peru north of the capital. The boats captain told the South American country’s Congress that oil had spilled into the ocean for at least eight minutes.
Peru – which has a large informal market economy – does not have exact data on the number of fishermen affected, or of the people on quays and ports who to depend on the fishing industry, including restaurants, food vendors and those who rent umbrellas or boats.
One thing is for sure: Affected artisanal fishers are among the most economically vulnerable in Peru, harvest small the amounts of fish very close to shore, sometimes from small boats and sometimes from the shore, said Juan Carlos Sueiro, an expert on the economy of fishing with the international preservation group Oceane.
“They are on the threshold of poverty. Their income varies from day to day,” he said.
De la Cruz said he immediately knew the oil was spreading over more over 106 square kilometers (41 square miles) – a area more grand that the city of Paris – would stop for the first the time that the activity lasted out for centuries on The Pacific coast of Peru.
“I saw the fruit of my livelihood destroyed,” he said. “His like if you have one store and someone comes to fix it on fire.”
Shortly after the spill, the government announced that he was trying to give financial help those affected. Authorities took next three weeks up with a list of 2,500 fishermen they would like help. Two weeks later, the government said it would now be Repsol who would like give up to $799 each of the 5,600 people affected to compensate them for the income they lost because of the spill. The Presidency of the board of The ministers did not respond to a question from The Associated Press (AP) about the validity of the aid pledge.
Many fishermen here do not have certificates or papers to prove it is their livelihood. De la Cruz no. But he knows he came here with a basket to fill on his back for 30 years. He normally sells or trades the fish with the owners of restaurants or local housewives, and takes a few home his wife to prepare dishes that can be sold to neighbours.
De la Cruz said he felt “broken” when he saw son workspace invaded by journalists reporting on the oil spill. He wanted tell them and the authorities how he felt, so he took a blue ink marker and wrote on a piece of cardboard, “Fishermen we need help please.”
Peruvian President Pedro Castillo visited the area passed by De la Cruz, and promised to help. After watching the puddles of oil, he had shaken son head and said, “It’s not possible.”
On another beach, Castillo had chosen up oil-soaked sand and recognized the impact of the spill. “What is the use of giving nets if they have no more place to fish?” he said.
But those presidential words, which inflamed De la Cruz’s hopes, did not bear fruit. More than a month after this visit, state aid no longer exists.
“Days pass and we get nothing,” he said.
The fishermen protested with their emptiness nets in of face of the Repsol refinery and the roads blocked, but they still have no answers to key questions such as: Who caused the oil spill? And how long before they can go back to fishing?
Repsol, a Spanish company, said huge waves created by a volcanic eruption in Tonga caused the spill and that the fault is with the tanker Mare Doricum. In response, the company that owns the tanker asked Repsol not to disseminate “incorrect or misleading” information. information as the investigation continues.
Edward Malaga, microbiologist and centrist Morado legislator party who went around the polluted area and speak with from Peru government and Repsol officials, said political instability was causing paralysis and disorder in At Castillo’s government and hinder a response.
Since the ecological disaster in mid-January, there were three Cabinet meetings shuffles and three different environment ministers. A of them was an inexperienced teacher of decision party who barely lasted a week.
“You are talking to a official and the following week there is another one who starts everything from scratch,” said Málaga. He said the four ministries and more more than 30 associated organizations involved work in in a coordinated way.
“There is no web page where you can go to see the work of each sector, day after day, how many fauna were saved, how many animals have been reported dead, how much of it has been cleaned up,” he said.
So far, Repsol has given out one or two cards – worth $135 each – to relevant people to redeem for food in a supermarket. This is not enough to feed them, so the fishermen have organized community lunches with food donated by the Catholic Church and other organizations. In these meetings, the lack of financial aid is a recurring theme.
Ady Chinchay, lawyer and researcher in environmental law, said fishermen may request compensation for loss of earnings in a civil court but there would be challenges.
“The judge will grant compensation based on evidence” that fishermen present about their income, Chinchay said. For many of those affected by the spill, it will be nearly impossible to do car they don’t issue received when they sell their seafood products.
It’s the case with De la Cruz, who never issued an invoice of to sell in 30 years.
“Imagine the despair in my home,” he said. His wife sells empanadas to try to pay off debts, but she no longer buys anti-inflammatories for arthritis in his hands.
“Yesterday we were just barely able to pay for natural gas,” he said.